Question: How far should a parent go to ensure the safety of their children without becoming overbearing? I cannot tolerate seeing my children exposed to danger and abuse.
In the Holy Bible, we read the story of Cain and Abel and I suspect that the first mother on earth, Eve, would have asked herself the same question that you have asked today. What’s the best way to keep my boys out of harm’s way, you might have wondered?
In his case and as we all know, Cain killed his brother Abel in what is clearly the first murder case on record (for those who believe in the Old Testament). It is possible to conclude that Eva failed in her parental duties and hence the tragedy that she visited her family.
In the story of the prodigal son in the New Testament, we meet another boy who was a little messy. The boy became impatient and could not wait for the father to give him his inheritance. As requested, the father agreed, and the boy launched into a life of excess and enjoyed his money in the company of, among others, prostitutes and later pigs. His near-disaster life comes to an end when he returns to his father, reportedly crying and severely malnourished.
Is this a case of parental failure? Is this the kind of scenario you hope to avoid?
A few years ago, his parents brought us a young man. For some years, he had traversed the world in search of a higher education. At first, he had taken his Form IV exams at a national school and had done poorly. As many parents do, the blame fell on the teachers, the bullies, and everyone but themselves. Peer pressure was the most cited reason for failure to perform.
He took a bridging course in South Africa and was admitted to a local university to study economics. He did well during the first trimester, but soon returned to his old ways. He soon started skipping classes and was cited twice for driving while intoxicated. When drugs were found in his car, he was deported after paying a heavy fine, which his parents did to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.
After six months of cooling his heels in Nairobi, a place was soon found for him to continue his studies in the UK. According to him, there was too much racism in his first school and he was moved further north. After his third school change in the UK, his parents were convinced to bring him back to Kenya to try a school near them.
Two colleges later and two write-offs on his mother’s cars, it was time to send him to the United States. We saw him after he was deported for using illegal drugs and for not complying with visa regulations. Doctors in the United States had prescribed medication for her, but had suggested that she would be better off under the care of her family.
The history we got dates back to his elementary school. His mother, a teacher by profession, had kept all of his school records. In elementary school, he was said to be nervous, restless, and poorly focused. It was said to be smart, but it was not applied. It was often too playful and disturbing.
He did well in elementary school, but his mother had organized private lessons and supervised his homework every night. She had noticed his short attention span, but paid no attention to it, as no help was available in high school or college.
In high school, teachers made the same observations. Smart but lazy. To be easily distracted, they wrote in their reports. On some occasions he was suspended from school and expelled from a high school for indiscipline. His father blamed the schools because he had been through a similar fate in his life.
The diagnosis was as clear as daylight. The young man had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and all his life, parents, teachers and even experts had blamed the young man, his parents, as well as peer pressure. Nothing could be further from the truth because the parents had two other children who had done very well in life.
The point of this story is that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to parenting, and no formula will work for all parents and all children at all times. The wonder of nature to me is not how often we get it wrong, but how, in most cases without prior training or a manual, so many parents get it right!
Dr. Frank Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant. [email protected]